HILLSBOROUGH: Improving Bruno assists HHS volleyball

By Justin Feil, Packet Media Group
Lianna Bruno is in her first year of playing varsity volleyball for the Hillsborough High School girls volleyball team.
The junior setter has only been playing since freshman year, when she made a big switch in her athletic focus to a sport that she had never played.
“Frist time I touched a volleyball was freshman tryouts,” Bruno recalled. “It started out as something cool. I was into taekwondo. It was a huge transition into a team sport from an individual sport. I don’t know why I tried out. I realized it’s so much better to be on a team. I’ve been practicing and improving and now I’m here with a lot of practice and a lot of great people.”
Bruno has been fully invested into volleyball the last two years. She was still practicing taekwondo as a freshman but needed to choose just one and made the tough choice to give up taekwondo.
“I was a first degree black belt when I dropped,” she said. “It was a pretty big part of my life. There was something about being a part of the team sport and doing that every day, it gave me a great feeling. It was hard to quit taekwondo, but now it seems so easy.”
Bruno has also grown as a player. She started out as an opposite hitter before moving to setter when the team had to fill a void.
“I started setting last year because for JV, Alex Chedid, she moved up to varsity so JV didn’t have a setter,” Bruno said. “It’s one of the hardest things. I don’t know how Savannah (Zhang) did it. I’m getting used to it. I’m still improving. Jordan Williams, she’s teaching me every day. She’s giving me pointers to get better.
“We’re all pretty close. It’s great. We’ve all been helping each other.”
Bruno had 15 assists to go with eight service points when Hillsborough evened its record on the season with a 2-0 win over Notre Dame last Friday. Faith Adams had five kills, Williams had five kills and eight service points, Morganne Bennett had four kills and seven service points and Amanda Comeau had three kills. Nicole Alexander and Chedid added a kill apiece. Isabelle Gonzalez led the defense with four digs, Danielle Fanizzi had two digs as did Adams, and Genie Michel had a dig while Marisa Mazuera posted a block.
“We’re struggling a little bit,” said Raiders head coach Cheryl Iaione. “North and Central and Bridgewater are extremely powerful this year. We’re struggling a bit with those teams. We’re beating the teams we’re supposed to be. The girls are struggling with confidence. We’re trying to figure this out. We have a big stretch this week. Hopefully we can come together and believe we can play with these teams.”
There has been a lot of turnover in the lineup since last year. Bruno had big shoes to fill with the graduation of Zhang, and the Raiders varsity newcomers like her are starting to get comfortable at the higher level.
“It’s crazy,” Bruno said. “First year of varsity, I did not expect to start. I’m ready to take that challenge and hopefully I can come close to being what the setter who left was. It’s tough. JV to varsity is tough for anyone. I’m glad I have a team to help support me and help us win.
“In the beginning of the season, I feel like we improved on that team chemistry that is so critical,” she said. “We’re definitely a lot tighter as a group. We’ve learned our weaknesses and strengths. We’ve tried to help each other improve our weaknesses and bring out our strengths. We’re getting our dynamics down and trying to compete with other teams.”
The Raiders lost to Bridgewater-Raritan, 2-0, on Tuesday, but the second game was a much more competitive 25-22 loss. It’s that sort of effort that shows that they can compete with anyone. They already topped defending Somerset County Tournament champion Ridge.
“That win over Ridge was a huge confidence booster,” Bruno said. “If we push ourselves to our potential, we can do it. Coach Iaione is doing a great job of making us realize we can win. It’s great to have those challenges to make us better as a team.”
Iaione is trying to get her team to understand just how good it can be. There has been progress, but they need to bring more consistency to their play. They have tried a number of strategies to develop better play against the tougher teams.
“I’ve mixed up the lineups,” Iaione said. “I tried to get some other kids in to get us some more energy. That seemed to work. I really believe it’s a confidence factor. I don’t believe they believe they can compete with some of the bigger teams. A lot of them are dwelling on last year and trying to live up to that. We have to get over that. All the girls we have now contributed in one way or other to that success. They’re selling themselves short. That’s what I’m trying to get through to them.”
The Raiders cannot hold anything back when they step on the court, not in a conference that has so many good teams. The daily challenges are helping them raise their level of play, and their schedule can benefit them in the long run.
“When we get to states, we’ll be prepared,” Iaione said. “You’re not going to see better teams on a daily basis. If we can make it there, we’ll be prepared. Central will be there. North will be there. Watchung is a good team. Bridgewater is good. It’s outstanding volleyball.
“We have to step up and play better volleyball. When we do that, anything can happen.”
Bruno sees the same potential. She has enjoyed being a part of the development of the team and sees only good things ahead.
“We have a dynamic team,” Bruno said. “We have great players and amazing skill on our team. I cannot see us doing anything but improving the rest of the season.”
It’s part of the learning process for a team that is putting together all the pieces to find its best lineup and most consistent way to challenge the strongest teams.
“Volleyball is all about momentum,” Bruno said. “You have to start out strong. Coach is trying to make us aggressive and trying to bring out that confidence we lack. I feel like we have it deep down. I feel like we don’t believe in ourselves. We’re getting to the point where we’ll think we’ll be a good team. Coach has been talking about bringing in that confidence and getting us to believe in ourselves. We’re trying to get to that point where we can too.”
Hillsborough will be going back through the league again. It gives them a chance to improve on previous showings and to move forward and build momentum for tournament time. Bruno is gearing up for a run, and thrilled that she made a choice two years ago to try volleyball.
“I love the sport,” Bruno said. “It’s definitely going to be hard after senior year because of the experience I’ve had at Hillsborough. I’m not thinking about where I could play in college because I’m thinking about what I want to major in. If I get the opportunity to play, I’d have to consider it.” 